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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Send 'em packing

by Brenda Looper | December 30, 2020 at 4:00 a.m.
Brenda Looper

Soon, Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., is scheduled to release its annual "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness."

I say "scheduled" because I wouldn't put anything past 2020, including delaying or preventing the release that word nerds like myself hunger for each year. Shifty, sneaky 2020 ... I wouldn't trust it to do ... well, anything, really, other than make our lives miserable.

That doesn't mean that word nerds haven't been busy already with their own words and phrases they'd like to never have to endure again, as well as those they'd want protected.

John McPherson of Searcy wrote: "One word I would like to be excised from the brain of every living being is 'snuck' used in place of sneaked, but I know it's a lost cause, but it's encouraging to me that my spellcheck does not recognize it as a word.

"Because of the actions of some elected officials during this awful year, I thought it a good time to re-read Orwell's '1984' where I found a neat word I was not familiar with: 'Persiflage,' which means light and slightly contemptuous mockery or banter. 'He exuded an air of persiflage,' I think would be one way to use it. I think it would be complimentary."

Persiflage has been in my bank for a while, just waiting for a good time to use it. Maybe when we get back to a more relaxed time when mockery becomes more innocent again.

Friend and former colleague Mary Hargrove (one of the smartest and funniest women I've ever known) offered: "Resilience. Every xx$%%^ flood, fire, earthquake and now disease has someone touting how we will all regain our lives in a minute. I've practiced it four years with [Trump] and I never felt better. OK. Now I do."

It should be little wonder we've been friends for a couple of decades now. Same cheery attitude I carry off so well.

Another dear friend, Sarah Kinsey Ricard, would love to see "pivot" head out the door. "Pivot is overused. Everybody is pivoting. Maybe we could change direction occasionally to give pivot a break."

Politics and corporatedom are especially egregious in their use of pivot and its cousin "pivot point," which I keep seeing in headlines that make me want to throw my computer against the wall. Like "at the end of the day" (Bob Adams' pet peeve) and "to be sure" (one of mine), it's fairly useless as far as getting an idea across clearly. As Sarah said, "At the end of the day, we'll pivot because it is what it is."

Email correspondent Dan Daugherty is annoyed by "out of an abundance of caution." Like those other phrases, it quickly becomes grating, yet people will keep using it, I'm guessing because they know it annoys some of us.

Randal Berry, who retired from the Little Rock Zoo in 2016 and has a strange affinity for reptiles (OK, so he was the reptile keeper), said: "I don't wanna see 'OK boomer' again."

At least Randal knows I won't say it. I'm just glad I haven't heard one for Gen-Xers (yet).

Joe O'Brien shared a word he really likes: "One mouthful I used in a grad school paper is antidisestablishmentarianism. I did not know then nor now the meaning, but it sounds so cool in a dense sense."

Well, when you come to this word nerd, ya get the meaning. Merriam-Webster's doesn't list the word because of its lack of meaningful, sustained and widespread usage (which means it isn't the longest word in that dictionary; that honor belongs to acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, commonly known as ABS), but says it means "opposition to depriving a legally established state church of its status." It developed as opposition to the Liberal Party's disestablishmentarianism movement in Britain in the 19th century, which tried to remove the Church of England as the official state church of England, Ireland and Wales.

While I'm a fan of words that are fun to say, like persnickety and discombobulated, I have to admit I feel a bit of pleasure when I get to use long words like "agathokakological" (composed of both good and evil), "contrasuggestible" (likely to respond to a suggestion by doing or believing the contrary), and "sesquipedalianism" (the practice of using long, sometimes obscure, words in speech or writing).

Doesn't take much to make a word nerd happy some days, even in 2020.

T im Herrera of The New York Times wrote earlier this month of the 20 words and phrases that defined this year. I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them end up on the banished list after we come out of the other side of the pandemic.

Sure, "Blursday" is funny now, but once life gets back to somewhat normal, how many of us will want to remember how much less meaning time had in 2020? Will we still be "doomscrolling" horrible news on social media when this is all over? Are we really gluttons for punishment? (Don't answer that.)

On the other hand, with any luck, more people will respect terms like "social distancing," "contact tracing" and "PPE," and understand their importance to our health in a pandemic.

I know, who am I kidding? We'll always have detractors, which is why the rest of us have masks.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at


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